USF Brings Together Women to Unite Around Activism and Leadership

By Mary McInerney and Ashleigh Hollowell, Office of Development Communications Posted Thu, 03/22/2018 - 11:12

More than 300 women came together to activate change and inspire one another at a university symposium that focused on advancing women to become leaders in their communities and throughout the world.

What they came away with was empowerment. Empowerment to become a leader, an activist, a philanthropist — all at a time when women are breaking barriers and making history.

“There is a readiness of women now to go forth and act,” said Leslie Wetzel, director of USF’s Women in Leadership & Philanthropy. “We’ve been thinking and talking for a while, and now there’s a real sense of urgency in taking that emotion and energy and doing something.”

The 5th annual Women in Leadership & Philanthropy Spring Symposium, held on March 21 during Women’s History Month, featured keynote speaker Debbie Sterling, inventor and CEO of GoldieBlox. The toy company, based in Oakland, is disrupting the pink aisle in toy stores globally and challenging gender stereotypes with a unique combination of engineering toys and storytelling.

Since its founding in 2012, GoldieBlox has seen more than a million downloads of its app that teaches girls to code, and it has sold more than a million toys world wide.

“Despite that progress, however, top toy executives still believe girls just want to be princesses,” said Sterling.

“I’m here to say the next generation is the maker generation. And, I can speak from experience, I think being a maker is more fun than being a princess.”

Her goal? To build a global franchise that turns every princess into a maker. “There are very few princess jobs,” she said, “but there are a lot of maker jobs.”

Call for Action Around Gender Equity

The symposium’s opening session featured Katica Roy ‘95, CEO and co-founder of Denver-based Pipeline, a platform that leverages artificial intelligence to drive economic gains through closing the gender equity gap.

Roy was inspired by the courage of her parents, an immigrant and a refugee, who came to this country with the hope of opportunity.

“My family’s story echoes the stories of refugees and immigrants today,” said Roy.

Her idea for Pipeline came about from an experience that challenged her belief in opportunity for all, however. After learning she was being paid less to do more than a male colleague, Roy discovered the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

“Why did I have to research my rights to be treated fairly?” said Roy. The seeds of her business — and her passion — were born.

Equality, Leadership, Activism and Philanthropy

Symposium attendees also engaged in panel discussions with speakers on a variety of topics, from equality to philanthropy.

Dr. Mary Wardell-Ghirarduzzi, USF Vice Provost, Diversity, Engagement, and Community Outreach, lead the Advocating for Equality session and talked about bringing a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.

She said it is essential to “... look at intersections of race, sexual identity and expression, class, disability and ageism and how those things lead us to a higher moral calling.”

In the Conscious Leadership session, Professor Kimberly Connor, who teaches ethics in the School of Management, reflected on how Jesuit educational principles are connected to leadership values.

“A conscious leader knows when to step forward and when to step backward and let others lead,” she said. “Conscious leadership requires humility, attention, and vision.”

MBA candidate Ai Huynh, a Fulbright Scholar whose company produced the first portable hand-washing stations in Southeast Asia, said conscious leadership means giving “support to people in need. You will feel happy, and you will gain more valuable insight when you help them.”

Attendees also engaged with a panel of nonprofit executives in the Activism 101 session, where they discussed the challenge of finding the best way to get involved and make a difference, given the range of issues that need attention globally.

“Have clarity even when it feels daunting, like you aren’t going to move the needle on anything,” said Camille Erin Llanes-Fontanilla, executive director of SOMOS Mayfair. “You can’t sustain a movement if you feel like there are no wins there.”

The Activate Your Philanthropy session focused on the fact that philanthropy isn’t just for billionaires, but instead is a practice that everyone can embrace.

“Philanthropy has become a way of life, a way I approach living,” said Jacqueline Copeland-Carson, CEO, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County. “It will determine the future of our people, our country, our planet.”

The symposium brought together women and men and encouraged them to take their passions and create change, said Eva Monroe ‘72, a member of the USF Board of Trustees.

“It was thought-provoking, inspiring,” she said, “and — in a word — noble.”

Find out more about Women in Leadership & Philanthropy